Sugar. Is it really that bad?

Various kinds of sugar, brown, white and refined sugar

In short … Yes it is!

We hear a lot about sugar in the news lately.  Some say it is bad for us while others say it is ok … in moderation. I’ll get back to that moderation thing a bit later, but let’s first talk about sugar and what happens when we eat it.

When you eat sugar, your glucose, or blood sugar, levels rise. In response to this the pancreas excretes insulin in order to take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy or to store it. We then feel hungry and want to eat again. This is a normal and necessary process in our bodies. The problems start to arise when we eat foods high in sugar but with little or no other nutrients.

Our bodies like to have a blood sugar level within a very narrow range.   When we eat an apple, the natural sugars in it are accompanied by fibre and other nutrients resulting in a slow release of the sugars inside. But when we eat cookies, lollies, soft drinks and fruit juices, the sugar is released into our bodies very quickly and we get a spike in our blood sugar and insulin levels. These levels then drop dramatically causing us to crave more sugar. These spikes can lead to diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression, stress, decreased ability to learn, fatigue, and headaches. And when we have more sugar than we need for energy, we store it as fat leading to weight gain.

Eating Sugar

Although exercise can help to burn off some of the calories in sugar, it still doesn’t stop the spikes from happening when we eat sugar. The sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies and also on our mental state and immune function.   And because sugar is digested so quickly, we feel hungry again very quickly so we are more likely to eat more calories.

There has been a trend to replace processed sugar with artificial sweeteners. These are actually worse for us. People who drink diet drinks are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than people who drink regular soft drinks. Diet drinks also cause the hormone leptin to drop, which triggers you to feel hungry so people end up eating more than they would have. And all soft drinks and many other sugary products contain preservatives and other chemicals, which cause another list of health problems.

Back to the topic of moderation. We often hear that you can consume certain unhealthy foods ‘in moderation’ as part of a healthy lifestyle. But what is moderation? Once a day? Month? Year? There is no definition of this term giving everyone an excuse to overindulge. And there are many sugar products that I think people should just never consume.

AdobeStock_105681564.jpeg

Next time you are at the supermarket, check out the labels on your favourite products. You may be shocked to find how much sugar is hiding there. Nutrigrain cereal is one product I have a particular problem with because it advertises itself as being healthy and for athletes, but I doubt any athlete eats 27% sugar for breakfast!  Other products to look out for are sauces.  Tomato sauce (ketchup) is 30% sugar.  Juices can be between 10 and 18% sugar – more than soft drink!!

If you have any questions about sugar, talk to your local naturopath. Try cutting down on your sugar intake and see how you (and your waistline!) feel.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about sugar here:

Advertisements

Protein. What do we need it for?

fagioli borlotti - beansProtein is the most abundant substance in our bodies after water. Our hair, skin, eyes, muscles and organs all contain protein. We use it to make hormones, enzymes, blood components such as hemoglobein and ferritin, and antibodies for our immune system.

The average person needs 1g of protein per kg of a person’s weight. So if you are 70kg you want to eat 70g of protein in a day. One easy way to know if you aren’t getting enough is if you crave sugar. Protein is a slow burning energy that helps make us feel full. But when our bodies don’t have enough of it, it seeks to eat fast burning carbohydrates such as sugar. If you increase the amount of protein in your diet, you will notice a decrease in sugar cravings. And studies have shown that increasing protein intake can help reduce weight even without other lifestyle changes.

It is best to eat protein at each meal so that your body gets the sustained energy throughout the day and not leave it to just dinner. Breakfast, as people say, is the most important meal of the day and the most important time to eat protein. Some protein at breakfast will keep you going longer and help prevent those sugar cravings at morning-tea time. And eating a healthy breakfast leads to improved cognition and memory, reduced absenteeism from school and work and improved mood.

Selection of protein sources in kitchen background

There are many great sources of protein. Red meat, chicken, fish and eggs contain the most amount of protein. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products also all contain protein. There are also many great plant sources that will also give you good fats and fibre such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Beans, peas and soy are also great sources of protein.Dinner plate

No one wants to be weighing their food to make sure they are having the right
proportions, so an
easy way to make sure you are
getting enough is look at your plate. For a healthy meal, you want half of your plate to be fruits and vegetables, although preferably vegetables. A bit more than a quarter to be protein and a bit less then a quarter to be healthy carbohydrates.

If you need motivation to increase your fruit and veg intake along with your protein, how about this: one additional serving per day of fruit lowers your risk of death from all causes by 6%. Each additional serving of vegetables lowers it by 5%.

Most people are pretty good with having a balanced dinner plate, but struggle with breakfast. Some ideas are smashed avocado with an egg of wholegrain toast. Or make your own muesli or granola with lots of nuts and seeds.

Don’t forget to increase your water intake as you increase your protein intake to avoid constipation. And enjoy the increase in energy you will feel!

References

Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J, Zhu M, Zhao G, Bao W & Hu FB. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 29 July. 349.

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut Poached Chicken

healthy soup

As the weather gets a bit cooler (at least here in Australia, well not really), this is a delicious and healthy dinner that is super easy to make.  It will warm you up and is sure to be a family favourite.  I know we love it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 – 1 inch pieces of fresh ginger
  • 1kg  carrots (I also added a small sweet potato)
  • 2 cups stock (I used A.Vogel Herbamare Bouillon Plantaforce)
  • 2 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 500g chicken breast – cut up into slices to decrease cooking time

Cut up onion, garlic, ginger, carrot and sweet potato.  Carrot and sweet potato can be in large pieces as they are going to be blended later.  Put in a pot with the butter and cook until onion is translucent.  Add 2 cups of stock and cook until tender.  Once cooked, blend until smooth.  I put it through my Vitamix but a stick blender is also useful.

Ginger powder and grated in the spoon with the root and leaves

While that is cooking put coconut milk in another pot and heat up.  Add the chicken.  Cook until chicken is cooked through.  Don’t let the coconut milk boil or it will separate.

Once the chicken is cooked, fish it out with a slotted spoon.  Poor the remaining coconut milk into the carrot mixture.

Take two forks and shred the chicken to bite sized pieces.  Add the chicken back into the soup and you’re done!  Add a sprig of cilantro to serve if desired.  I served it with homemade garlic bread. Mmmmmmm

little baby in a chef's hat and ladle in hand

 

The Truth about Fats

Selection of healthy fat sources

For many years a low-fat diet has been considered healthy when in fact it has been contributing to the increase in diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The original research that indicated a high-fat diet was associated with increased heart disease was an association study. It found that countries that consumed a high-fat diet had a higher incidence of heart disease. But this is an associated NOT causation. It is like saying New Year’s Eve causes fireworks. The study also didn’t include the data from all available countries. When included there is little to no association between a high-fat diet and heart disease.

Unfortunately the marketing world responded to the idea of low-fat being healthy by creating products that are low or no fat. As a result these products are higher in sugar and salt (to improve the bland taste from the lack of fat content) and thus dramatically more unhealthy. Check out the sugar content on low-fat versus full cream dairy products next time you are at the store.

In 1977, the US dietary guidelines suggested that an increase in carbohydrates should coincide with a decrease in fat intake. The reasoning was that fats have more calories in them so this would result in a reduction of overall calories. The exact opposite is what happened. Fats help make you feel satiated (full). If you eat low-fat products you are actually more likely to eat more calories. So although fats are higher in calories, you end up eating less than if the calories came from carbohydrates.

Oops

When people eat a low-carbohydrate diet it improves weight, lipids, diabetes, and inflammation. A low-fat diet with the same number of calories worsens all these measures. Fat intake is not associated with type 2 diabetes and there is in fact no association between percentage of dietary fat consumed and increased risk of death. Also, saturated fats do not increase cholesterol.

People have also been advised to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately this has mostly resulted in people consuming more omega-6 fats found in corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed and grain fed red meat, rather than the healthy omega-3 fats found in fish, grass fed red meat, flax and chia. This switch away from saturated fats to omega-6 fats resulted in increased cancer, increased heart disease, increased LDL, decreased HDL (good cholesterol), and increased death.

The most nutritious way of eating is to consume lots of vegetables, a moderate amount of protein from some meat but also vegetarian sources and a small amount of good quality carbohydrates.

So which fats should you eat? Coconut, macadamia, pumpkin, avocado, sesame and rice bran oils as well as butter are great for cooking. If you consume dairy products always buy full cream. Only eat grass-fed and grass finished red meat. Eat salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and cod whenever you can. Avocado, walnuts, linseeds, almonds and hemp seeds are great for snacking. Avoid trans fats and farmed fish. Limit omega-6 intake especially in the form of vegetable oils.

Don’t be afraid of consuming good quality fats. You will feel fuller faster and for longer and will end up consuming less calories, improving your health and feeling better.

For some more information about fats, check out my video for the Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge: